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What is Tiwanaku?

Brendan McGuigan
Brendan McGuigan

Tiwanaku is a pre-Incan city in Bolivia. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and has been since 2000. It is viewed by most archeologists as being one of the key sites leading up to the Incan Empire, and remains a beautiful site for modern visitors.

The site dates back to 1200 BCE, when it was settled as a small village. The remnants of agriculture in the area show that the inhabitants utilized a form of growing known as raised-field agriculture, which is highly efficient. They represent an early form of permaculture, and in recent years some experimental programs have started to recreate the agriculture evident at Tiwanaku.

Tiwanaku offers hiking opportunities for visitors.
Tiwanaku offers hiking opportunities for visitors.

By the 7th century, it had begun to develop into a true urban environment, shifting from a solely agrarian culture to a more diverse one. By the 9th century the city itself covered nearly two square miles (5 sq. km), and likely had a population of around 40,000 people. Some evidence suggests that the area may in fact, however, have supported hundreds of thousands of people.

By the 11th century, Tiwanaku had begun to decline, and the culture also began to fall apart. It was not abandoned, but it lost its place as a major power in the area, although it laid much of the groundwork for the later Incan Empire.

Tiwanaku is surrounded by mountain ranges that offer beautiful views for visitors.
Tiwanaku is surrounded by mountain ranges that offer beautiful views for visitors.

Although many of the site has been looted over the centuries, they are still a very impressive bunch, and some have been restored by the authorities. The architecture of Tiwanaku is very impressive, especially when one considers that the enormous stones used to build the structures were transported from some 25 miles (40km) away, and were moved without the advantage of the wheel.

The artistic style of Tiwanaku is also unique, with fascinating figurative pieces that feature exaggerated heads. The style is related to the Huari style, also found in the Andean region, and it is possible that it grew out of the earlier Pukara style.

Tiwanaku is situated more than 13,000 feet (4000m) above sea level, in an absolutely gorgeous section of the Andes. It is encircled by mountain ranges, which offer beautiful vistas and wonderful hiking, and is not far from Lake Titicaca, although the lake cannot be seen from the site of the city.

This site is often referred to as the "Stonehenge of the Americas," because the stones featured in the site are not seen in the area itself. Local legend holds that the site was created by giants, who later angered the gods and so were swept away in a flood, but the large stones have encouraged some alternate creation theories in recent years. Some people believe the site is more than 17,000 years old, and believe it to be the work of an extremely advanced civilization.

There are a number of beautiful sites at Tiwanaku worth visiting. One of the most famous is the Gate of the Sun, an enormous gate built out of a single piece of rock. Another is the site of the ruins of Puma Punku, which some people believe was an enormous port, built at a time when Lake Titicaca came to the edge of Tiwanaku. And perhaps most impressive are the pyramid of Akapana and the temple of Kalasasaya.

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    • Tiwanaku offers hiking opportunities for visitors.
      By: blas
      Tiwanaku offers hiking opportunities for visitors.
    • Tiwanaku is surrounded by mountain ranges that offer beautiful views for visitors.
      By: Kotangens
      Tiwanaku is surrounded by mountain ranges that offer beautiful views for visitors.